Men of Steel

[intro-text size=”25px”]Composite materials. So much of what we use in the modern world is made up of them, from sterling silver jewelry to airplane fuselages. They’re called alloys, combinations of different metals melted together with the specific purpose of strengthening the metal and providing it with added stability and further resistance to corrosion.[/intro-text]

It is these principles that also define Alloy-X, a Cleveland-based music label started in 2013 by Cleveland Heights native Connor Musarra and his business partner, Luke Spry, from Boston. Thought-provoking hip-hop and electronic music and forward thinking business practices make up the composite metals being melded under the Alloy-X label name.

“Alloy-X applies that concept to music,” says Musarra. “It’s an amalgam of different artists and styles melded together to make the group as a whole stronger. The ‘X’ just means it is undefined. Alloy-X is an alloy, undefined. In being part of Alloy, an artist receives additional strength, stability and resistance to corrosion, so to speak because they are now part of a larger metal that reinforces them.”

Musarra and Spry were introduced by Matayo, a mutual friend who became an artist on Alloy’s roster when all three attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston together. “I originally met Connor in our first semester at Berklee,” says Matayo. “We lived in the same dorm building and after finding out his roommate was from New Jersey, like myself, he told me to stop by his room sometime. I remember seeing Connor working on beats in the room. I almost immediately reached out to him and we ended up becoming best friends.”

“As for Luke, I posted on Facebook that I was selling a couple books for school. He told me to come by his room. I sold him the books and saw that he also made beats and produced records. He played me a bunch of material that day and sent me a batch of beats through email. I passed the email over to Connor and we both agreed we were really into Luke’s music. The rest is history.”
Alloy’s current roster holds nine artists and over 40 individual releases.

Musarra has now decided to move on from Urbindex. “Starting in 2016 all of my musical endeavors will be encompassed under my real name, Connor Musarra. I feel that given the vast number of different musical projects I am now involved in, it no longer makes sense to have them encompassed under a stage name, but rather my real name. I want people to see my work as part of a much larger picture: a human being, complete with all complexities that come with it.”

Just like the music Alloy-X represents, the view is always looking ahead. “We want to utilize the current technology with apps or stream services, to not have to rely as much on the traditional internet selling-music model,” says Musarra. “We never want to actually sell music, we want to find other ways. It’s impossible to only make money in one way. It’s such a huge turning point in the music business right now. Music consumption is at an all time high, but nobody is gonna pay for it because nobody has to pay for it. We actually started Alloy FM before the Apple Music shit all happened, and then the Beats Music Radio. Beats 1 Radio is exactly what we intended Alloy FM to be, curated shows that were all related to Alloy-X.”

This view of the future is also reflected in how Alloy-X does business with its artists. “Luke and I spent a lot of time trying to construct the smartest business contract, one that is most beneficial for the artist. It’s completely non-exclusive, which is basically unheard of from a label. Anybody can do anything with any other label. For the things you choose to do through us, these are the rules, this is the way it gets split. But I don’t want Alloy X to be the only thing everybody on the label is doing.”

“Heaven Is In You” is a club night put together by Alloy collaborators ADAB and Ghost Noises, mixing hip-hop and techno for forward-thinking fans in Cleveland’s underground music scene. It’s an anything goes kind of night in the basement of Now That’s Class; a guy in piano-key design suspenders and khakis and a girl with bright blue hair contrasted with her long sheer pink gown that looks more suitable for bed time than a (literally) underground club. Street art, or “graffiti” as the uninitiated refer to it, covers all the walls. There’s a lounge-style chair made out of a heavy old conveyor belt, and what was once the removable backseat of a van that now sits on the cement floor with two occupants having what looks like a pretty thoughtful conversation. The smoke and how it plays off the stage area lights only adds to the ethereal atmosphere created by the music and its chill audience.

Several members of Alloy-X are here to support their label mates friends: Mook Da God, Ghost Noises, Connor Musarra, Chemist. They all take positions near the front of the stage, though they are difficult for the performers to see through the haze of smoke, their presence is felt. They have each other’s back, strength as individuals that binds and reinforces the whole – that’s just what alloys do.

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A Walk-through

A/V (Audiovisual) – Get high as fuck, walk into your favorite cozy coffee shop and ask the barista to play A/V’s “BluntBreaks” album on their system. Order yourself a macchiato and find a table in the back to chill. If they don’t have “BluntBreaks”, you’ll have your copy downloaded onto your own device. That is all.

ADAB – “Low-key” and “quiet” are not words often positively associated with DJs, expected to be the life of the party and to manage a stage show with only their electronics, but ADAB is at his most fascinating when he disappears into the zone behind his turntables. His name is taken from the concept of “adab” in Islam that stands for refinement, morality and humanity and is reflected in his being. The combination of glitch and old school hip-hop never sounded so smooth.

Ghost Noises – The simplified definition of experimental hip-hop is “fuck it, let’s try this“, which defines the music of Ghost Noises to a T; it fits into no category but “all”. Check out “Hallucinating” and go on a trip of a trip with vivid lyrics backed by electronic blips and beeps produced by fellow Alloy-X artist Broken Keys.

Smoke Screen – the duo of Chemist and Mook Da God and their complimentary delivery styles are a textbook example of what you imagine Cleveland urban music sounds like: gritty, chopper-style raps with an underdog’s fighting spirit. Says Mook and Chemist, “The vibe of the city has been in our music for years, everything from the harsh winters to the unique headlines and the characters that come from this city.”

Smoke Noises – Chemist and Mook Da God team up with label mate Ghost Noises and bring their own unique rhyming styles to this group. They complement each other, which keeps a listener’s keen interest. Listen to “Make It To A Dollar”, another example of the gritty, underdog Cleveland sound with truncated hip-hop beats produced by Urbindex.

Hokes – Hokes steals samples and beats from places not known to Earth; it is a truly “anything goes” sound. Best listened to very late at night. Check out “Wowowow”; you’ll hear layers of distorted sound that would work well with a roll without blasting your brain cells.

Broken Keys – Smoke Noises rapper Chemist explores his electronic side with minimal house influenced by bass-heavy UK garage. Listen to the down tempo “Black Sand Beach” when you’re driving home from a club night and starting the gradual comedown. Every Monday, Broken Keys hosts a house night at B-Side Lounge in Coventry with DJs shipped in from as far away as California and Japan.

Bobby Junior – The New Jersey native otherwise known as Hokes has an alternate persona as Bobby Junior. Check out the track “Untitled (Mobbin’) with smooth breathy vocals backed by minimal hip-hop beats best played when your party is just getting started.

Channel – Everybody knows everybody in Cleveland, thus the creation of Channel via collaborations between the Alloy-X label and Cleveland-based urban street wear collective, RVAH. The Ghost Noises and Urbindex remix of the industrial-tinged “DEFCON” played musical backdrop to RVAH’s runway show at New York Fashion Week last year.

Matayo – It’s quite amazing that someone twenty years too young to have lived in the 70’s could capture the heart and soul of that generation and mold it into modern music, but the man responsible for introducing Alloy-X’s co-founders has managed to do just that. “free.soul (vol.1)” is the initial offering by Matayo, whose background in audio engineering and keen ear for true-to-life samples and old school music demands a listen. Feel the love of past generations’ music while appreciating the nuances of a newer one.

Urbindex – Alloy-X’s co-founder Connor Musarra creates his own blend of electronic and hip-hop music most noted by his introspective lyrics, layers of sound and the chopper style rap Cleveland’s Bone Thugs N Harmony made famous with the CLE accent we natives don’t believe really exists: nasal tone and elongated “a”s. Musarra chose the name “Urbindex”, a combination of “urban” and “index”, as he says, “to represent an index of information for the city. In this case, Cleveland,” a philosophy reflected in his music and lyrics.

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